In what they are calling the most extreme case of frozen plant regeneration ever documented, scientists are claiming to have regrown shoots of Antarctic moss that were trapped beneath layers of ice and frost for more than 1,500 years.
Scientists from the British Antarctic Survey and the University of Reading, in England, said in a paper published last week that the regrowth occurred in a core sample taken from a gigantic bank of moss on remote Signy Island.
“These mosses were basically in a very long-term deep freeze,” co-author and terrestrial ecologist Peter Convey wrote in a statement. “This timescale of survival and recovery is much, much longer than anything reported for them before.”
Cryptobiosis, a term meaning “hidden life,” describes the ability of some invertebrates, plants and microbes to enter a state of suspended animation when faced with environmental extremes, such as intense cold or lack of moisture.
Many scientists have believed that cryptobiotic organisms could survive in such a state for no more than a couple of decades. “Here we show unprecedented millennial-scale survival and viability deep within an Antarctic moss bank preserved in permafrost,” Convey and his colleagues wrote.
The moss, Chorisodontium aciphyllum, can grow into banks more than nine feet tall in the maritime Antarctic. New growth occurs at the surface, while lower levels become part of the permafrost, researchers say.